Understanding Selflessness — And Why It Is Important

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By James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #121


We all have a choice to make.

We can make it right now.

We can spend the rest of our lives living in the light or we can do the opposite.

Maybe the rest of your life is too long to think about, how about this moment? If you can commit 100 per cent to being a light in the darkness right now then that is getting somewhere.

If you can do it right now, this idea of what right now really means can become a way of life, and this idea of being a true light shining in the darkness can start to make some major impacts not just in your life but in the world and maybe the universe itself.

Most people walk through life with blinders on. Maybe they don’t want to or are unable to see the truest nature of reality. Maybe they are just so caught up with the delusion that swirls around them that is fed by culture and society and the endless churn of information we get flooded with.

You see, the society or better yet, the view of reality that we are all fed is nothing but a lie. The truth of our lives and our reality is far different than most will ever really see – to get there you have to get down to some fairly serious training.

I’m not going to get into what that means right now. But let’s just say that our self-centered view of reality, the I, I, I, me, me, me is not only the central aspect of our delusion but maybe the beginning of a radical shift in your view of things, what causes so much trouble in all of our lives.

We cling to things. We want things. We worry about things. We fear things. All of this happens in the shifting sands of how we see life. Generally we spend way too much time dwelling on the past or fearing and fretting about the future. Here is a little mind-blowing secret: none of that exists. The past is gone and of no value to you. The future isn’t here and also of no sense worth worrying about. What you are left with is right now in this moment.

When we start to understand that all we have is now and there is no guarantee of anything else and add to this that all the other myriad of things around us also face the same fact but end up suffering from skirting the magnitude of this mixed with an obsession with self, what you are left with – if you really want to be a light in this world instead of just more darkness – is that there is just one option left; to help.

The level of helping can be in big ways or in small ways. You can make a conscious effort to mitigate the level of harm you cause in the world – of course you won’t be able to completely avoid it. Wash your hands and you are killing things, walk down the sidewalk, the same, eat food, yup, more death and destruction.

What I try to do is balance it.

Help as many people and things as I can. When given an opportunity to help something, you do what you can.

Are you going to always succeed? Nope. You’ll fail and you’ll fail some more. What you can do is turn these failures into lessons and opportunities to expand your world, expand your perception, expand your view of life and your place in it. And the best part of failing is learning and doing better as a flawed human.

In the Army when I was in training and throughout my career we were bombarded with the concept of service before self. This means putting serving your country and its peoples ahead of your own desires and in some cases your own life. In military terms this means being willing to put your life at stake for the greater good.

Interestingly enough, this same concept is what Buddhism pretty much is pointing at as well, albeit from a different angle. This path is one of putting the liberation or the relieving of suffering of all living things ahead of all other things so that it is literally what you are looking at as a huge part of your training. It is what some call the Bodhisattva path.

Now some of you might be like, yeah, ok whatever, I’m not a Buddhist. Well, you don’t have to be. What you can be though is a super person who makes selflessness the central tenet of whatever training you make yours.

You train in the martial arts? Great, instead of focus on how to destroy someone, how to harm someone, make your training be about how to defend yourself for sure but to mitigate the damage you would do to someone else. Make violence itself something that you avoid. Ask yourself how you can do kickboxing or jiu-jitsu or karate or whatever else but from the standpoint of protection of others, of not letting your ego grab hold, of helping others first and foremost.

When you make this what your training is about and less about building yourself up, less of competing with others, less of a self-focussed view of training and more of a view of what you can do to help others you will find your whole training change and more importantly, your whole life will change.

What things can we all do to help cultivate this self-less approach? Well we can judge less, we can be critical less, we can gossip less, we can be mean and thoughtless less. We can smile more. We can be kind more. We can help more.

An amazing thing will happen when we start down this path to help spread light in this world. We will find that it changes our outlook and not only that, it makes you less likely to react to things as you once did, it will make you smile more, it will make you actually look for ways to help more.

So here is a little practice that you can do anytime of the day, it just takes a few slow breaths. As you breathe in, think about the people and things in your life, even those you have issues with, and send them and visualize them being surrounded and getting loving-kindness. See them in that light.

You want this to be a thing that you think of regularly.

You see an ant wandering down the sidewalk, send it loving-kindness.

Some woman in the grocery is dealing with a screaming kid, loving-kindness.

You are getting choked out in jiu-jitsu, defend yourself but then send loving-kindness.

You can work this in whatever way you want. Sometimes when I’m out for a walk or riding my bike and I pass someone or see something I just say to myself, “I hope you have a life of happiness and joy.” I’ve known Zen masters who make it a practice to make a more formal bow and recitation when they pass things.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter. It is similar to how I was raised in the martial arts that when you bow to someone in the dojo you think to yourself of how grateful you are for them to be here training with you, that you have gratitude for them being in your life and that you hope they never have to use what you will be training in together and that you do your utmost that nobody is injured in training.

We take this same concept we use in the dojo and expand it to mean even more in life.

For me, in the past few years I’ve really amped up this aspect of my training and have found that it makes a huge impact. Give it time and it changes the way you see most things and how you react to them as well.

When it comes to training, whatever that means to you, we need a kind of practice that actually has an impact on our lives. One that changes us and for the better – without that we will find ourselves habitually following the same patterns we always have, spinning our wheels in the mud.

I want more from my life. I remind myself constantly that even the dimmest light in the darkness beams outward.

See how it goes. Better yet, let me know.

We can add to the darkness and delusion of this world. We can be ambivalent to it. Or we can decide right now to be a light casting all of that away.

What are you going to do?

I know what I will be doing.   

 Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast    

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